The Internet: Use It or Feel Used by It

Thursday, January 28, 2016

As I may have mentioned at some point, I created a small backlog of about a dozen blog posts that are ready to post at a moment's notice. This allows me to maintain a regular posting schedule even when my entire morning is lost to illness or something else that demands my attention at that time. These posts cover what I call "evergreen" topics, rather than being about current events, so it generally won't matter that I compose them weeks in advance. This strategy dovetails with my practice of sometimes posting ahead of time by making it possible to ignore the news entirely if I know I'll be busy. So, in practice, I keep an eye out for "evergreen" material and, if I'll be posting ahead and have a good topic, I create an entry and refresh my queue with it. That is, it goes to the end of that line and I schedule the oldest post for automatic publication.

On more than one occasion now, I have noticed something odd in the process of writing such a post, specifically regarding a type of article I keep seeing pop up. There is a sort of push-back against the ubiquity of the Internet (and other means of rapid communications) in our lives. (If I recall correctly, I have even seen it called something like "the slow web".) The kind of article I keep seeing is that someone unplugs from it all for some time, for whatever reason, and, on returning, writes to tell everyone how great being unplugged is, apparently oblivious to the irony that modern communications make such insights available to us all. The insights sound good to me, too, so I flag the article as "evergreen" to write it up, and then, on re-reading it, I wonder why I was so impressed.


Now, I don't want to pick on anyone -- and my practice of queuing posts like this will probably keep this out of the limelight, anyway -- but this has just happened again. (I am writing this in late October in a hotel room.) I skimmed "3 Lessons About Disconnecting From Sailing Across the Atlantic for 1 Month: Offline Is the New Black" yesterday, and found myself impressed with how the author prepared himself to take an exciting vacation. And now, I find myself with a question.

First, for the insight:

My friend Arthur, a fellow crew member for this sailing trip, was on sabbatical, a great way to disconnect too. [He said,] "In terms of business, going offline felt like 'firing myself' for a month." And it was great!
That's true, and "mak[ing] yourself redundant" is necessary for such a break. It can also be quite instructive and lead to better ways of taking care of one's daily business. I think vacations are quite valuable in that regard on top of the rest they offer, but the raving about being unplugged was putting me off for some reason.

According to the author's friend, "When the internet is one tap/App away, it's tricky not to default to it!" That may be true, but is it really a problem with the new technology or with how we've adapted to it so far?

As someone who finds constant alerts annoying, I have, for quite some time, deliberately stayed away from my phone and email, checking them only at certain intervals just so I can put my thoughts together. My perspective may be odd in today's culture, but I think if people generally learned to say, "No," more often, and got more into the habit of asking, "Why am I doing this?" more often, lots of the vicious cycle of compulsively checking for communications would die down. In that way, rather than forgoing insights -- like this author's about the value of taking a step back once in a while -- by blaming our lack of focus on a machine and acting on it, we would do what I thought about on re-reading this: "Why not do some of these things all the time?"

By all means, if we find that something in our lives is wasting our efforts, we should find a way to do less of it, including by such means as delegating it or doing it only at times convenient to ourselves.

The Internet is a tool: If you don't use it purposefully, you will feel like it is using you.

-- CAV

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